Hi folks, hope you had a terrific new year’s eve and day. I felt I wanted to get started on the right track for 2016, so here goes:
The title is kind of a hook as it does not mean there is Gun Shot Residue in wine…although there could be in some of the cheap stuff. But there is arsenic in wine – some wine, most notably from the Central Valley where the San Joaquin Aquifer, the second largest in America, has been depleted, increasing levels of arsenic, but still not a health hazard…now if it was in water, it would be dangerous levels but unless you drink a couple of gallons a day of wine you should have no problems. But do keep in mind that arsenic is not water soluble and thus remains in your system and continues to build over time.
TB has become a big fan of organic (not necessarily certified organic but where vignerons try to keep it as close to that as possible), sustainable (the most common form of farming which reduces or removes the use of pesticides and fertilizers, relying on planting mustard, etc. between the rows), and biodynamic (think of the Farmer’s Almanac: planting at the right time, positioning rows for maximum light exposure, etc.).
In Vol.1 No. 30, TB recommended two books on the Chinese influence on Bordeaux wines and it isn’t for the best. One was Thirsty Dragon: China’s Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World’s Best Wines by Susanne Mustacich. Anyone who wants to do business in China is either very brave or naive. But it is the impact of this and the wealth in China that has corrupted the Bordelais. They have bought up dozens of small chateaux and then using them to bottle plonk using the chateaux name for credibility, or taking a name like Chateau Lafite and by simply inserting a second ‘f’ (which is what the wine should be graded), selling wine of unknown origin and low quality to a people who have zero knowledge of wine. Worse, the government accommodates them by letting them copyright names…even well-known names of providers and then suing them and winning because under Chinese Law whoever copyrights it first wins…with a lot of palm-greasing I am sure.
This has changed the Bordeaux marketing process from having a negociant who buys the wine to sell to retailers, and a courtesan who is paid 2% of the cost to have the winery sell their wine to certain negociants. The Chinese have bypassed this process by going direct to the chateau and offering them incredible sums for their wine. This has made the negotiants pay the same price or higher and has minimalized buying of the wine by Europeans and Americans…it simply cannot go up in value like it used to, and the negotiants and retailers bear the risk.
The other book, Vino Business – The Cloudy World of French Wine by Isabelle Saporta a french investigative reporter who, for her disclosures is surprisingly alive. Furthermore had she misstated facts she would have unquestionably been sued. Readers of this blog have heard the author refer to terroir, the combination of soils, climate, etc. that imparts a certain flavor in the wine. Very few changes have been made to the chateau rankings in the classification that goes back to 1855. But many changes have occurred since the Chinese invasion. Among them are requiring large parking lots for guests, a nice looking chateau, and many more variables but the most damning is that they are forcing out the small growers who in turn either have to sell to a classified chateau or to a Chinese. These are estates that have been in their families for hundreds of years. Worse, with the prices of the land skyrocketing if they don’t sell the estate taxes will destroy them financially.
Now let’s get to the quality issue. First, they have increased production which means that the wine should be cheaper not more expensive, ceteris paribus, as an economist would say. They are doing this in many ways: by over-fertilizing with chemical fertilizers and spraying vineyards with insecticides from helicopters! This has increased levels of cancer to locals and chemical analyses of all the classified growths shows levels of those chemicals in the wine, including some that are on the banned list!
Back to terroir, the boundaries of the appellations (Pauillac, St. Emilion, etc.), were established based on the very elements of terroir, and while no winery outside can list the appellation on the bottle…unless, the classified chateau buys an adjoining property outside the appellation and are then allowed to include the fruit in their wine! Where are the appellation controllee’s? Siding with the big chateau on virtually every element stated above, when their charter is to improve the quality of the wine for the benefit of all within the appellation. Recently, some irate small landowners in St. Emilion took it to court…and lost which is incredible.
Well, I got more into Bordeaux than I intended today but if it stops you from being stupid enough to buy the classified growths, it will well be worth it. In the meantime, there are many unclassified growths – with a house on the land instead of a chateau, and no parking lot. that are making excellent wines at a fraction of the price of the big boys.
So I am going to leave you hanging on what was meant by GSR…stay tuned…will be back in a couple of days with the full explanation and it may shatter some of your ideas of what the best wines really are.
Happy New Year, friends and readers!
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